Montgomery rethinking policy on school facility fundraising and donations

Some Montgomery County schools have gotten new electronic score boards, thanks to parent fundraising or private donations. One school built a million-dollar artificial turf athletic field.

Now, as school leaders conduct a review of the policy that guides such contributions, they are seeking public comment across Montgomery and paying close attention to concerns about fairness and equity. Three community meetings will be held this week.

No one wants to discourage parents and other supporters from donating or fundraising to help a school, officials say. But not all communities have the same financial resources. So there are gaps.

“In many communities, it’s not so easy to raise money,” said board Vice President Patricia O’Neill. One of the pivotal questions, she said, is: “How do we find a way to create a level playing field?”

There are no specific proposals yet for revising the district’s policy. The present policy allows donations from groups such as PTAs, booster clubs, businesses and community organizations. Projects are reviewed by the district, and one factor considered is whether they would “foster or exacerbate inequity.”

The question is whether the policy is sufficient, officials say.

Bruce Crispell, the district’s director of long-range planning, said nearly half of the 124 projects undertaken in the past three years cost less than $1,000. They included butterfly gardens, tree planting, a walkway and art displays.

The biggest-ticket item has been the turf field at Thomas S. Wootton High School, funded largely by the school’s booster club and the Bethesda Soccer Club.

The community meetings this week — starting at 7 p.m. — are Monday at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown; Wednesday at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring; and Thursday at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.

Following community meetings, a steering committee is expected to assemble comments and provide a report to the school board’s policy management committee. The committee is scheduled to consider potential policy changes next school year.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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